During the CCIE Netvet Reception at Cisco Live 2013, a curious question came up during our Q&A session with CEO John Chambers. Paul Borghese asked if it was time for the partner restriction on CCIE tenure to be lifted in order to increase the value of a CCIE in the larger market. For those not familiar, when a CCIE is hired by a Cisco partner, they need to attach their number to the company in order for the company to receive the benefits of having hired a CCIE. Right now, that means counting toward the CCIE threshold for Silver and Gold status. When a CCIE leaves the the first company and moves to another partner their number stays associated with the original company for one year and cannot be counted with the new company until the expiration of that year.
There are a multitude of reasons why that might be the case. It encourages companies to pay for CCIE training and certification if the company knows that the newly-minted CCIE will be sticking around for at least a year past their departure. It also provides a lifeline to a Cisco partner in the event a CCIE decides to move on. By keeping the number attached to the company for a specific time period, the original company has the time necessary to hire or train new resources to take over for the departed CCIE’s job role. If the original partner is up for any contracts or RFPs that require a CCIE on staff, that grace period could be the difference between picking up or losing that contract.
As indicated above, Paul asked if maybe that policy needed to change. In his mind, the restriction of the CCIE number was causing CCIEs to stay at their current companies because their inability to move their number to the new company in a timely manner made them less valuable. I know now that the question came on behalf of Eman Conde, the CCIE Agent, who is very active in making sure the rights and privileges of CCIEs everywhere are well represented. I remember meeting Eman for the first time back at Cisco Live 2008 at an IPExpert party, long before I was a CCIE. In that time, Eman has worked very hard to make sure that CCIEs are well represented in the job market. It is also in Eman’s best interests to ensure that CCIEs can move freely between companies without restriction.
My biggest fear is that removing the one-year association restriction for Cisco Partners will cause partners to stop funding CCIE development. I was very fortunate to have my employer pay the entire cost of my CCIE from beginning to end. In return, I agreed in principle to stay with them for a period of time and not seek employment from anyone else. There was no agreement in place. There was no contract. Just a handshake. Even after I left to go work with Gestalt IT, my number is locked to them for the next year. This doesn’t really bother me. It does make them feel better about moving to a competitor. What would happen if I could move my number freely to the next business without penalty?
Could you imagine a world where CCIEs were being paid top dollar to work at a company not for their knowledge but because it was cheaper to buy CCIEs that it was to build them? Think of a sports team that doesn’t have a good minor league system but instead buys their talent for absurd amounts of money. If you had pictures of the New York Yankees in your head, you probably aren’t far removed from my line of thinking. When the only value of a CCIE is associating the number to your company then you’ve missed the whole point of the program.
CCIEs are more valuable than their number. With the exception of the Gold/Silver partner status their number is virtually useless. What is more important is the partner specializations they can bring it. My CCIE was pointless to my old employer since I was the only one. What was a greater boon was all the partner certifications that I brought for unified communications, UCS implementation, and even project management. Those certifications aren’t bound to a company. In fact, I would probably be more marketable by going to a small partner with one CCIE or going to a silver partner with 3 CCIEs and telling them that I can bring in new lines of partner business while they are waiting for my number to clear escrow. The smart partners will realize the advantage and hire me on and wait. Only an impatient partner that wants to build a gold-level practice today would want to avoid number lock-in.
I don’t think we need to worry about removing the CCIE association restriction right now. It serves to entice partners to fund CCIEs without worrying about them moving on as soon as they get certified. Termination results in the number being freed up upon mutual agreement. Most CCIEs that I’ve heard of that left their jobs soon after certification did it because their company told them they can’t afford to pay a CCIE. Forcing small employers to let CCIEs walk away to bigger competitors with no penalty will prevent them from funding any more CCIE training. They’ll say, “If the big partners want CCIEs so badly that they’ll pay bounties then let the big partners do all the training too.” I don’t even think an employer non-compete would fix the issue as those aren’t enforceable in many states. I think the program exists the way it does for a reason. With all due deference to Eman and Paul, I don’t think we’ve reached the point where CCIE free agency is ready for prime time.